In our seventh episode of season two of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Shivika Sinha. Shivika is the CEO and Founder of Veneka, a capsule wardrobe styling service featuring the world’s most sustainable and ethical brands.

Shivika was recognized by Forbes’ Next 1000 List. Alongside women like Michelle Obama and Malala Yousafzai, Shivika was honoured by the U.N’s Decade of Women and The Canales Project with a song dedicated to her life’s work. Shivika was recognized in Retail Touchpoints Magazine’s Retail Innovation Awards in the ”Disruptor” category, which recognizes pioneers in the retail industry. She was also named as Direct Marketing News’ 40Under40 “most accomplished, high-level superstars” in marketing.

Shivika has spent a decade in marketing, growth acceleration and strategy for global brands like Alex and Ani, Oscar de la Renta, and Gap Inc/Intermix and has advised Fortune 100 companies via Epsilon. With luminaries like Arianna Huffington and Steve Wozniak, she is a member of The Real-Time Academy Of Short Form Arts & Sciences where she judges the Social Good prize at the Shorty Awards.

Shivika is a Mentor at XRC Labs, a leading business accelerator for the next generation of startups in retail and consumer goods. She is also an Operating Partner at BFY Capital, which provides growth capital for ‘better for you’ consumer companies. Shivika serves on the Advisory Boards of The Pivot Conference and VRevolution, which both explore the intersection of business and technology.

She is a TEDx speaker and has graced global stages including the U.S. Institute of Peace, Georgetown University, NYU Stern School of Business, Subscription Summit, Brand Innovators and many more. Shivika and her work have been featured in TechCrunch, Huffington Post and other publications.

In this episode, we talked to Shivika about conscious consumerism, purpose and impact on consumers and businesses and how it all affects the business model and the customer experience.


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Graham  00:13

On this episode of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Shivika Sinha, award winning social entrepreneur, advocate for conscious consumerism, and the founder and CEO of Veneka, a capsule wardrobe styling service featuring the world’s most sustainable and ethical brands. Shivika was recognised by the Forbes next 1000 List alongside woman like Michelle Obama, she was honoured by the UN’s Decade of Woman and the Canalis project with a song dedicated to her life’s work. She has over a decade of experience in marketing, growth, acceleration and strategy for global brands like Oscar de la Renta and Gap Inc. She’s a mentor at XRC labs and operating partner at BFY capital, and is a TEDx speaker. We talked to her about conscious consumerism, purpose and impact on consumers and businesses, and how this all affects the business model and the customer experience.

Graham  00:57

Hi Shivika, Welcome to the podcast.

Shivika  00:59

Hi, thank you so much for having me. I love what you guys are doing. And I’m so happy to be here.

Graham  01:03

No, awesome. You’re more than welcome. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your backstory and how you’ve gotten to where you are with conscious consumerism?

Shivika  01:12

Yeah, absolutely. You know, I grew up in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. And really, as a result of my father’s work in impact investing, I had the front row seat growing up as to how businesses can be utilised to uplift the poorest parts of our world. Fast forward got my Master’s in marketing, headfirst into a marketing career with brands like Alex Unani, Oscar de la Renta, Gap Inc, and Intermix and advice, Fortune 100 clients via Epsilon. At some point, you know, it’s probably again, a decade in, I realised that the work that I was doing was not supporting the things that I had seen growing up, and the communities, the environments and so forth, and I realised I needed to pivot became more involved with the UN met amazing organisations that knew impact really well, but did not know how to take a product to market or their ecommerce businesses. And so I started the Veneka group, which was a consulting company, which we won several awards for, from then wanted my work to have an even greater exponential impact. Fashion is among the top contributors to climate change. And it is the single greatest exploiter of women on the planet, there is no reversing climate change, fixing gender equality, ending hunger or childhood poverty without fixing fashion, and decided I would spend the rest of my life on this particular course. So today, I’m the founder of Veneka, we’re a capsule wardrobe styling service feed powered by a marketplace of sustainable ethical and cruelty free brands.

Graham  02:40

That is incredibly admirable to hear that because I can imagine this many other people having been in your position with the companies that you’ve worked in, that could very easily just have gone, you know, I’m just gonna focus on what I can focus on. And I’m not really going to worry about the rest of the world and take my paycheck and live a glamorous lifestyle and you’ve kind of gone actually, the reason I get out of bed is to make other people’s lives better.

Shivika  03:02

Absolutely. I think there came a point where you sort of have to reinvestigate what you do, why you do it, there is motivation beyond monetary and I think purpose was a big one, I felt purposeless. And I think a lot of people feel this way. I’ve read tonnes of research around Millennials and Gen Z’s looking for more purpose and more of a mission in the companies that they work for. And that reflects on them individually, as well. So I think so many people go through this. And I was just very fortunate as a kid to have that upbringing where I had seen some of these issues firsthand.

Graham  03:39

And purpose is an important one. Because I think like you say, we all look for purpose in our daily lives and what we do, but consumers are more and more looking for purpose in companies. Why do companies exist? We all know that companies exist to make money, but there has to be a greater purpose than just churning out product at the cheapest possible price.

Shivika  03:56

Yeah, absolutely. I think that the world, I think in the future, and we’re starting to see this already, purpose and impact will be imperative for profit. I think we’ll get away from seeing, you know, social impact or impact investing. And it’s all just business and investing. And I think that’s the world that we’re headed towards. And I think that’s the world that’s being created. We’ve seen since you know, the Donald Trump era and everything that’s been going on in the United States over the last four years, politically, four to five years politically, we have seen an influx of brands needing to have a greater purpose other than selling product. And I think we’re going to start to see that from a mission and political standpoint, go deeper into the goods and services, supply chains, and really how the product gets to consumers as well.

Shelley  04:42

Absolutely. And what you’re talking about with mission Shivika, how is it going to be possible? How are retailers going to have to adapt to really incorporate these missions and this purpose into a successful business model?

Shivika  04:56

Absolutely. That’s a great, great question. I think consumers today are more savvy than ever, they can tell the difference between greenwashing and add purpose that’s just been slapped on for the sake of it. And so you know, one, I think looking at marketing is a great way to begin and nonprofit partnerships, in particular, your next marketing campaign, find and align both brand and mission and product aligned, nonprofit, and you give back components, volunteer components, charitable giving their various ways to support a nonprofit that’s already doing the work on the ground in impact. I think what is also going to start to come up a bit more is the origin of materials, consumers are already excited about recycled polyester. I think when ever possible, looking at recycled plastics, recycled paper, rather than virgin materials, I think there’s going to be a big need in the future that companies can kind of start to get back on now. And then allowing employees as part of the culture of the organisation to give back. So allowing for volunteer time, allowing for community organisations and allowing them to give not just their money, but also their time and energy to the causes that they care about and making that an appropriate part of the culture, I think it’d be really important.

Graham  06:13

I think a lot of people see this stuff, it’s hard, right? Where do you start is my one purchase actually going to make that much of a difference. But certainly from our kind of experience, we in the old days, when we used to print business cards, I went looking for business cards, and I found a company that the business cards were made from the off-cuts of the t shirt industry, right. So we needed a business card. Rather than going for virgin paper, we found a cool way to kind of go actually, this we know this off cut in the fashion industry exists. Let’s turn it into a business card. And we actually put on the business card. I used to be a t shirt because we thought it was just a really cool way to go. Here’s something unique that when a person picks it up and turns it over, they can go hey, I didn’t realise you could make paper out a t shirt. So I think it is a lot easier than people kind of maybe give it credit for. But I guess is it just about making the first step?

Shivika  07:03

Absolutely. It’s, you know, think about it this way. It really is about the ripple effect. So if I decide one day, I’m going to use chocolate as an example. Chocolate and slave labour sort of unfortunately go hand in hand. Most of the cacao in the world comes from Western Africa. It’s estimated that there are about 2 million children working under exploitative conditions for cacao farmers. So fair trade chocolate Fairtrade is a certification that certifies that everybody in that went into the process of making the chocolate was paid a fair living wage and was treated with dignity. So fair trade chocolate versus regular chocolate, right so that is it. So starting there, if I start to buy Fairtrade chocolate, I discovered this amazing brand, and there are tonnes of them out there that make Fairtrade chocolate, I then spend the rest of you know, let’s say 30 years of when I’m buying chocolate, I chose Fairtrade brands. In the process, I influence five other people. And in turn, they influence five other people. And that’s the ripple effect. And so there are choices that we make on a daily basis that I think we underestimate the power that they have in influencing ourselves, especially when they repeated decisions, as well as influencing our friends and family and those around us. And that’s the ripple effect that’s created with every purchase that a business or consumer makes.

Shelley  08:24

And I think we’re finding more and more that consumers are becoming all consumers who are conscious find each other, don’t they? Because they connect with these values. And they seek out these values and they seek out those certifications. Like you said that example of chocolate and seeking out fair trade options. Are there any other trends that you’re seeing that are coming out from conscious consumerism?

Shivika  08:46

Absolutely. I think a leaning towards fairtrade coffee, Starbucks has actually been a leader in this space in reducing their humanitarian or uplifting their past humanitarian impact in the coffee industry. We’ve seen more and more fashion brands use recycled polyester, organic cotton’s which use which uses 90% less water than conventional cotton. So we are we are seeing this trend. It’s certainly not fast enough. You know, and I think, I think though, it will continue as consumers get get more and more savvy about what they can purchase and what they can do. I also want to add just the end use of products and recycling. I think that’s a big trend that consumers have really taken on over the last decade or so. So we’re now seeing more products made from recycled materials, because the recycling processes have become a lot more savvy as well.

Graham  09:41

Do you think? And this might be a bit philosophical, but do you think us as consumers need to take a step back from the consumerism that we’ve kind of gotten ourselves into, right because we have as a society, a world and I can only talk to, you know, the areas that I’ve been in, there’s plenty of parts of the world that are far less advantageous in terms of their exposure to the types of consumerism that we have in the West. But do you think we need to as kind of people just go? More isn’t more, we don’t need to just continually fill our houses and lives with all the stuff. And just by going, Oh, well, I always buy Fairtrade. But I’m still buying considerably more than I actually need is still a problem, right? We can shift to, I only buy organic cotton, but I wear the t shirt once and then I throw it out like that really isn’t achieving the end goal?

Shivika  10:34

No, no, absolutely, you bring up a great point. So the United States contributes to 30% of global climate change. And 70% of the GDP is fueled by personal consumption. So Western and particularly American Consumerism fueled by fossil energy, and fossil filled capitalism has led us to where we are. And so that the two go hand in hand, I think we have to come to sort of an inner awakening of what our needs are. But specifically, I have found that where we, where we take consumerism, to the next level, is, we think things and the stuff that we buy, say something about us, right? Like, we need to upgrade the couch, or we need to, you know, we need the right clothes or the right handbag, we start to personify the things that we and have an attachment to the things that we buy. And I’m not talking about sentimental items that have sentimental value to us. But really, that’s where we do the inner work to say I’m not my stuff, I’m not my things. And I certainly don’t need to have a dopamine hit to buy something every time I feel upset, we learn to self soothe. So there’s a lot of inner work that goes on from a consumer standpoint. And I’d say, you know, also, using items longer, you know, I think even two generations ago, I remember my grandmother, she would knit and repair everything. I have sweaters that I probably, you know, are older than my children. I’ve had things that I’ve had for 15 years, but I know I’m rare in that. And so using things for longer increases the utilisation factor of the items as well.

Shelley  12:14

Absolutely, I think a massive thing. And this is a cultural issue really, is the status symbol that we attach to material things, whether it’s a new car, or whether it’s the latest iPhone that everybody feels that they need to have, or the latest fashion in it’s really, really linked, particularly in the west to this this status in the sense of what you portray to your peers or to the outside world. And it’s even more so the higher up sort of society you go, you know, when you get to the, you know, the private jet to that end of the spectrum, the impact that those kinds of things have. So it’s really, really about conscious consumerism at all levels.

Shivika  12:50

Yeah, absolutely. I would say look, we’re human beings we do live in this society. What I tell people is you do what you can you if you can afford to spend you know, 10% 15% more for the fairtrade coffee, or the chocolate or the organic cotton shirt to so you know, just make sure you love it. Make sure you the shirt, for example, make sure you love it, it goes with your wardrobe. So make thoughtful decisions and support the brands that are creating the world that you want to live in. And just be mindful of your waste in the household and personally and do what you can no one is perfect, right? But the important thing is we start taking steps and we bring other people along with us.

Shelley  13:26

It’s so good to hear really, really hopeful, actually. Shivika, do you have any tips or tricks that you can share with people into in terms of how they can take steps to become more conscious in their consumerism?

Shivika  13:40

Oh my gosh, absolutely. So one of the big things is recycling clothing rather than especially if a piece of clothing is at the very end or close to the end of its life. Sometimes recycling rather than donating can be better off. 80% of the clothing that we create ends up in landfills. Most of it is recyclable. So clothing waste is a big part of what you know even items that are donated eventually end up in the landfill. So thinking about recycling clothing and their recycling clothing centres and perhaps your building or where you live can recycle the item versus donating towards the end of garments lifecycle I think is important. Fairtrade certification is a great one to look out for. And it’s coffee, it’s chocolate, we’ve talked about, you know, nuts for example, it’s a great one to look at your grocery store aisle and look for those items that are Fairtrade certified, and then favour any household goods cleaning products, toothpaste, for instance, where the tube itself or the packaging is recycled plastic or has a percentage of content that is recycled, because then when you take that and recycle it, you’re contributing to the overall closed loop of that plastic. And so reducing the need for virgin materials. Those are some good places to start that I’ve seen people be able to do pretty easily and, and create a ripple effect from there.

Graham  15:06

Awesome. Thank you so much for your time. It was an incredibly enlightening episode. And I hope that everybody takes away one, stop and think, two consume less. And three when you do consume, consume in the right way.

Shivika  15:23

Absolutely. You know, I think I think I’m excited about simplifying this stuff for people because it can be so complex. And I think, just like we want to tweet with the right hashtag to show a support for a cause. Every dollar we spent has the power to change the world. And I hope people can see how much power they do have in those daily actions.

Graham  15:42

That was Shivika Sinha, founder and CEO of Veneka. The consumer has changed forever, and they are holding businesses responsible for their actions more and more. Purpose needs to go far beyond just selling products, and has to be truly authentic in it’s cause. Build a narrative into the customer experience and bring them along on your journey. The reason they’ll make a purchase with you is because they know that your brand is aligned to their personal values. Working with nonprofits is a great way to start the journey for our brand and understand the origin of materials and where possible, avoiding virgin materials can have a huge impact. As consumers and even businesses each step and purchase we make it all drive considerable influence and create a ripple effect. Ultimately, we all need to think a little more about what we need and understand that overconsumption is an issue. Each pound we spend has the ability to change the world and our daily actions can be incredibly powerful. Thanks for joining us on this episode of 15 Minutes With and we look forward to having you along on the next one.